Vatican City, Nov 1, 2014 / 15:02 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Despite continuing theological, ethical and ministerial differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the schismatic Old Catholic Conference, the two communions can continue to work together, Pope Francis counseled on Thursday.
“The theological and ecclesiological questions that arose during our separation are now more difficult to overcome due to the increasing distance between us on matters of ministry and ethical discernment,” lamented Pope Francis in an Oct. 30 address to the Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht.
However, the two Churches can continue to dialogue and cooperate in order to address spiritual crises in the world. “In the meantime, in the heart of Europe, which is so confused about its own identity and vocation, there are many areas in which Catholics and Old Catholics can collaborate in meeting the profound spiritual crisis affecting individuals and societies,” the Pope said.
The Old Catholic Church is a group of Churches that separated from communion with the Catholic Church over the question of papal authority.
After the First Vatican Council, bishops in parts of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland formed a communion of Churches, later claiming apostolic succession from the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, who ordained the group’s first bishop.
In the early 20th century the Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches was recognized as being in full communion with the Anglican Communion. The communion accepts doctrine formed before the Great Schism in 1054 and the first seven ecumenical councils, but rejects communion with the Pope and other doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church.
In 2009, the International Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue Commission produced a report detailing the two Churches' understandings of ecclesiology, the role of the Bishop of Rome, fundamental points of agreement, and remaining open questions.
The Oct. 30 meeting, whose Old Catholic members were led by Archbishop Joris Vercammen of Utrecht, president of the International Old Catholic Bishops Conference, is the latest in a continuing attempt at ecumenical dialogue between the Old Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis explained that since the Second Vatican Council it “ has been possible to build new bridges of a more profound mutual understanding and practical co-operation,” between the Old Catholic communion and the Catholic Church.
This dialogue has led to a better identification of the differences between the two Churches, but it has also lead to the realization “that in the course of time new disagreements between us have emerged,” Pope Francis continued.
In recent years, the Old Catholic Church has accepted the ordination of women.
The Pope called both Catholics and Old Catholics “to persevere in substantive theological dialogue” and to continue to pray and work together towards a deeper conversion in Christ.
In the meantime, he continued, the Churches ought to work to address the spiritual crises and needs of the world, particularly in Europe.
“There is a thirst for God,” the Pope counseled. “There is a profound desire to recover a sense of purpose in life. There is an urgent need for a convincing witness to the truth and values of the Gospel.”
He suggested that the two communions can “support and encourage one another, especially at the level of parishes and local communities,” in helping address the spiritual difficulties facing the continent.